from "Anima/l Wo/man and Other Spirits" by Charles Cantalupo



two excerpts from Anima/l

3. Reason

I travel for the sake of poetry,
But who can understand that?
One person, maybe you --
Each strange place the imitation of
The creation of love
Where we return gathering our cats.
This breakthrough and entering the rock,
Desire popping the lock,
A spray of perfume like lions
Into the dust, and knowing the note
Of adoration playing mutually,
Which we don't hold by the throat,
Invite sunbirds to nest in our ears,
Lobes pierced by the thorn of desert dates,
And weavers to fly into our eyes
And mend the holes of repressed fears.
With the oracle drum praying
And after shaping palm wine mud
Into a dead love, we'll drink choukoutou
And pombe until we fall down silly,
And drain the calabash of wine again,
Our eyes and teeth drenched in red stain
Of bangi smoke and cola nuts.
Then our sex will drink the bulls' blood
And bathe in curdled milk of cows
As if we were God's spies
Knowing the secret why's and how's,
Ready to return to and re-harmonize
The kingdom of death and breath, spirit and beast.

8. Red

I root in the blood as it pounds
Within the womb skull of spirit and earth
The first breath and taste of birth
And the last of rebirth, the ochre vein
Of night music running through the gray thorn
Of flesh, the red eyes in the cave
Painting their fires blue beneath
The red other side of the black
Rock of God and rainless, fetal death.

two excerpts from Wo/man

6. Wronging

I end this story with no difference
Among men, God, and torturers
Except with your embrace --
Risking a stab in the heart --
And the gift of a fish
And fidelity's bracelet
Absolute as light
We wear for protection
Granting the mutual wish
For one to wash the other and musk
The body free of its abstract,
Shapeless sack of no mystery
Except its snake belt jeweled with scorpions,
And free of being no more than fair prey
For rites and doctrines or their denial,
Worthlessness or sole providers,
Lost crying or found laughter,
Rhetoric or chaos, men or devils,
Origins or an ever-after
Devoted to isolate, bore,
Distrust, torment, blaspheme, correct,
Panic, and never to escape
With a passport of no more writing
Except by freely saying Peace.
No self consciousness, knees wide apart,
Squat, and not even the prophet
Intervenes between salvation
And my sex free of hate
Yet aware of what my mother suffered:
One face, one body, all different,
But millions giving each other equal
Communion and the choice to be old,
Naked, slack and chasing the goat
Or jeweled and tight and chasing it too;
To drink six lemons and hot pepper
And spread it on my nipple, or to nurse,
Shave or not, primary and pastel,
Yet clean with built-in support
Pronounced by margins at the center.
Leave at dawn but return at dusk
When roosters and hens are sacrificed
And our children come back from their sports
To no beyond but tomorrow
That the beloved dead still see,
The joy we have now taking them ahead
With us and never again back
Except for strength if tomorrow is hard
As it has been: the segregation,
The choice of being blood or witch --
Bloody sheet or denounced in the street --
A knotted rag to chew with no teeth,
My whole body hot but no part iced,
No water in the market
Or only one drink for all our money,
Despondence and nothing to eat
Except my compulsion for raw meat,
Contraception only to prevent
Doomsday, my freedom and my phantom
From deserting the home
Of ideology for more pay
Than more need and separation
And from finding a job in a factory
To be free and where I can hide
And sleep a little while underneath
The wool like a sheep before my feet
Get pulpy washing it in sodium,
Soap and hot water, so that mercurochrome
Not henna, vermilion,
Saffron and indigo spots
And bright black triangles around my eyes
Is the only makeup I can wear,
Afford or desire.
There are too many olives to pick.
I need you to shake them off the tree,
And we need friends to help harvest,
Plenty to share, and figs
To suck fresh or let dry
In marjoram to thread them on straw.
We'll trade each other blankets,
Bags of irises and roses dried.
I'll water your mint at night.
We'll watch it grow tall in the sun
And not burn as we hoot fast and high,
No children with measles have died.
We'll disappear into cool shade
Together to dance until I crack
And throw myself down on my back
For you to heal your wound and drink.
We're only as strong as our links
To each other, but if one remains
Tangled in the other's broken chain,
Let there be no society
Except a trance, an old deaf priest,
Knife in his hand, leading a cow by the horns
And his wife with a sheep and a goat.
Around them a crowd waves sharp sticks.
Expanding their cheeks like clay pots
And chanting, Ready. Go. Ready. Go,
They sit on fire, suck hot coals,
Drink boiling water and don't spit,
Hatchet their scalps, eat their clothes,
Gravel, glass, cactus spines
And strangers who pass too close.
When the hag kisses each animal's lips,
The priest cuts its throat,
And the crowd all speed and fingers rips
Open the raw flesh until the entrails
Bubble in their claws
Already full with hairy shreds
And gobs of bleeding fat to smear
On their eyes.

9. Wo/man

Four arms, four legs, two similar
Faces, one neck, one head,
Four eyes, two genitals
Knit my body with the blood
Of never less than two dreams,
Both understood as much
As desire rolled apart
And easily back into one
Whole ball of difference and yes
With eight spokes of happiness
Strong and sensitive to their tips
Cartwheeling across a screen
Of no boundaries to touch,
No words for love except its acts,
And no fear of being split
By the hair of judgment
Like a razor not a chain
With hooks to pull us back
Into paradises of a body
More than a flapping flatfish
Or open sack pulled tight with a string
Around nothing to worship
Except a gash of questions
To keep quiet: Why us?
Who saw too much? Jealous?
The eye makeup? Black?
Grotesque? Sterile? Wrong sex?
Broken into sexes, races, species,
Politics, families, and the lonely
Walking away with armfuls of leaves
And giving their names to our places,
Only by loving the difference
Can I forget being desolate
Without my other half
And my children broken worse
Than faces on old gravestones.

Copyright © 1996 and 1997 by Charles Cantalupo.

from Anima/l Wo/man and Other Spirits
(Spectacular Diseases Press, Peterborough [UK], 1996)

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